Hodosan shrine, one of my top ten favorite shrines of all time, is one of those rare shrines that is well worth going out of your way to visit. Apart from its intriguing 1900 year history, the beauty and detail of the shrine and the grounds will captivate you in a way that few other places can. The shrine received its Michelin Green Guide star on its merits. Then there’s its location on Nagatoro’s Fortune Climbing “Hodo” Mountain. You could spend days, weeks, exploring this all encompassing tranquil yet teeming mountain town.
Hodosan Shrine is one of the three principle shrines in the Nagatoro area. The other two are Chichibu Shrine and Mitsumine Shrine. The shrine was founded in 110 A.D but the current buildings were built during the Meiji period (1868 – 1912). The shrine is dedicated to the founder and first emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu. As well as to Ooyamazumi-no Kami, a mountain diety said to provide everlasting harvest, and Ho-musubi-no Kami, a fire deity who provides an eternal flame. The latter no doubt chosen for Yamato’s supernatural encounter.
Legends of Hodosan Shrine
There are dozens of legends surrounding Hodosan Shrine. Here are two of the most famous, which are also available in greater detail in English on the official website:
Prince Yamato and the fire stopping dogs!
The legend goes that folk hero Takeru Yamato (of Yamato natural spring and Kanasana Shrine) founded the shrine after receiving providence, while hiking there, from the mountain Gods. Yamato and his army were climbing to the top of the mountain to pray to the Gods. On their ascent they found a natural spring in which they purified themselves for their pilgrimage.
As they set off, a fire encircled the group. Yamato bravely, yet in vain, tried to stave it off, using his sword to cut any burnable material in its path. Shadows appeared, but as the shadows came through the flames they were black and white dogs. The dogs used their powers to quench the fire and escorted the team to the top of the mountain. Where they mysteriously disappeared. He believed them to be messengers of God. Furthermore, the kanto plain stretched out in front crested by the vast sky, left quite an impression on Takeru Yamato. Thus, he built a himorogi (an altar to the Shinto diety) and enshrined the three Gods.
The cintamani stone!
Takeru Yamato named the mountain Hodosan for the meaning of fire stop mountain. However, years later another supernatural occurrence led to change how “Hodo” is written. Legend goes that miraculously a cintamani stone or wish fulfilling stone (houju no tama) flew out of nowhere and landed at the top of the mountain. Thus, the Kanji characters for Mt Hodo where changed to fortune (/ treasure) climbing mountain. Same name, different meaning.
Benevolence of the Shrine
A benevolence is a benefit from the deity, or in other words the power the deity is believed to hold. For example, at Hodosan shrine people pray to Ho-musubi-no Kami for protection against fire. The mountain deity who is also enshrined at Hodosan shrine is said to nurture harvests, so people pray to him for abundant crops. The shrine is particularly popular with hikers, who pray for safety climbing. You can pray for absolutely anything you want of course, but each shrine is known for “power” in one or a few fortunes in particular. The power and spiritual energy at Hodosan is particularly strong and so it is a known / recognized as a “power spot”.
One million plus visitors come to the shrine each year. I think its fair to say that not all of them come specifically for providence, some come for the aesthetics of the shrine. The main shrine style is Gongen zukuri. That is, the honden main hall and the haiden worship hall are connected by a passageway. The shrine has the most colorful and intricate carvings on the ranma;
Twenty four paragons of filial duty
Some of the intricate carvings on the ranma of the shrine depict the “Twenty-four paragons of filial piety”. They are also called the Twenty-four Filial Exemplars, used to teach Confucian moral values. The above photo narrates the story of a boy who wrestles a tiger to save his father.
There are several smaller shrines on the grounds, including an inari shrine. To get to the inari shrine you’ve to walk over a crevasse via an old metal bridge. The shrine is on top of the hill. The building looks to be quite new, possibly built in the last ten years or so. But I could find no information online to support that.
Gyokusenji Main Hall
Gyokusenji is the temple next door to Mt Hodo. They are actually interlinked by a tiered corridor. It reminds me of the bath house in Spirited Away! From the Inari shrine you can take a stairs down to the corridor. You have to duck under the corridor to get to the grounds of the temple. It also has its own main gate too.
Seven Lucky Gods
There is a Daikoku statue on the grounds. Daikokuten is one of the Seven Lucky Gods. He is the God of Wealth and the household, in particular the kitchen. He is usually depicted this way – wide smile, holding a mallet with a bale or rice. Although, often he is sitting on the bale, at Hodosan he has his foot on it.
The auxiliary or back shrine is a much smaller shrine. It is on the top of Mt Hodo. You can hike from the main shrine up the mountain to the auxiliary shrine or you can take the Nagatoro ropeway. It will bring you within a few minutes walk of the shrine. The shrine is relatively close to the beautiful wintersweet and plum blossoms that bloom in winter. It has wolf Komainu, which although relatively common in the Nagatoro / Chichibu area, are quite unusual on the whole.
- Hatsumode – January 1st to 3rd
- Setsubun – February 3rd
- Foundation day – February 11th
- Reitasai – April 3rd
- Fundama Festival – August 15th
- Lit up at night during Autumn leaves – November
- Otakiagesai – monthly on the 7th
This is just a small sample of the larger events at the shrine. The shrine have a really detailed English website which lists all of the events. There are also seasonal events on Mt Hodo itself, such as the wintersweet in January, the plum blossoms in February and cherry blossoms from March to April.
Hodosan Shrine Information
|Address:||1828 Nagatoro, Chichibu District, Saitama 369-1305|
|Hours:||24 hours, but parking closes at night|
|Cost:||Visiting: free. Praying: A donation. Amulets and services start from 300 yen.|
The shrine is easily reached, even by public transport. It is about a fifteen minute walk from Nagatoro station. There is parking in front of the shrine, but during busy periods such as New Year’s, it is often full. There is a larger car park by the ropeway.